It May Have Cost Thousands of Lives

28 May
English: Inside the Ross Rifle Factory, Quebec...

Inside the Ross Rifle Factory, Quebec City, ca. 1900-1905 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Lee-Enfield rifle, No.4
Lee-Enfield rifle, No.4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the greatest controversies in Canada was brought about by national pride, and may have cost thousands of lives.  It was over the Ross rifle, used until August 1916 by Canadian troops in World War I.

The problem began several years before the war.  The government tried to order British Lee-Enfield rifles for the Canadian forces, but Britain had priority on them, and would not release the quantity required.  In 1901 tests were begun on a rifle designed by Sir Charles Ross and continued until after the beginning of war in 1914.  It became a matter of pride that Canadians would have rifles so good that Britain would come begging for them.

The Ross rifle compared well with the Lee-Enfield in target shooting but jammed when it became hot.  It was redesigned and special Canadian ammunition was made for it but it still jammed.  Sir Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, was a keen amateur marksman, and the lightweight Ross rifle appealed to him.  He did not seem to see its faults, and Ross rifles were issued to Canadian soldiers fighting in World War I.   They cost up to $18 each, at least 25 per cent more than Lee-Enfields, and by this time had been altered so much that they were seven inches longer and a pound heavier than the British rifle.

The Canadian soldiers themselves got rid of the Ross rifle.  During the battle of Ypres, nearly 1,500 threw them away and picked up Lee-Enfields lying beside dead British troops.  Their own rifles had jammed in battle as tests had always shown they would.

British General Alderson made repeated representations to Sir Sam Hughes about the loss of confidence in the Ross rifle.  Sir Sam did nothing.  Finally, in desperation, General Alderson wrote to the Governor-General, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught.

The Ottawa Citizen received permission to print this letter which appeared on the front page of the Citizen, May 16, 1916.  It produced the desired reaction: Sir Robert Borden cabled Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, asking him to have a decisive test made.

On May 28, 1916, Haig advised the Canadian Government to abandon the Ross rifle “without delay,” and his recommendation was accepted.

If you would like to read some more about this, I would suggest National Library of New Zealand for a newspaper article; then the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum.


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23 responses to “It May Have Cost Thousands of Lives

  1. prayingforoneday

    May 28, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Great read…
    I think when I read “What I waste of lives”
    A voice in the back of my mind said “Again”

    • tkmorin

      May 28, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      Yeah, doesn’t that voice really scream it so it can’t be ignored!?? 🙂

      • prayingforoneday

        May 28, 2013 at 7:34 pm

        WHAT? Can’t hear you for that voice 🙂

        • tkmorin

          May 28, 2013 at 7:38 pm

          Thanks for the smile!! 🙂

          • prayingforoneday

            May 28, 2013 at 8:11 pm

            Takes two to make a smile 😦

          • tkmorin

            May 28, 2013 at 8:12 pm

            … though I sometimes laugh at my own jokes … 🙂

          • prayingforoneday

            May 28, 2013 at 8:33 pm

            I sit in my car, alone, laughing at things like this, if someone spots me I pretend I am on phone hands free, lol

          • tkmorin

            May 28, 2013 at 8:35 pm

            I have to start doing that, thanks for the tip! 🙂

          • prayingforoneday

            May 28, 2013 at 8:43 pm

            Im here all week 🙂 lol

  2. hermitsdoor

    May 28, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Given the history of the late 19th & 20th centuries, I would say that human lives were less valuable (or more expendable) than weapons systems. We certainly “spent” a lot of soldiers (and citizens) in various wars and conflicts. Of course, only now are are we learning that with million dollar drones, a couple of guy with butcher knives can be pretty destructive. Of course, if you wish to view the current conflict as a “Global War of Terror”, we can conclude that the “enemy” has more soldiers than weapons systems. They pretty much “spend” one or two with each attack.

    • tkmorin

      May 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      Very well said, Oscar! Thanks for the feedback! 🙂

  3. L. Marie

    May 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    All I can do is shake my head. What a waste of lives!

    • tkmorin

      May 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      … and for what, really … I’d like to think we wouldn’t make the same mistakes today … 🙂

  4. Lone Grey Squirrel

    May 28, 2013 at 10:50 am

    A sad story about the criminally stupid.

  5. Terry Irving

    May 28, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Reblogged this on Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!.

  6. Maurice A. Barry

    May 28, 2013 at 9:20 am

    A good story to bear in mind though, as that stubborn insistence to proceed due to egoism and greed and and DESPITE the evidence is something that still happens in Canada. e.g. messing with the census, NOT protecting our fish stocks, letting the Senate do…whatever, trying to pass legislation that bypasses the judiciary…the list goes on.

  7. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    May 28, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Wow – it seems hard to imagine such blatant chauvinism, to the degree that it would leave one’s own troops ill-prepared to defend themselves. A fascinating, if sad, post.

    • tkmorin

      May 28, 2013 at 9:41 am

      I thought it was a story worth telling. 🙂

  8. Michelle Bennetts Heumann

    May 28, 2013 at 9:00 am

    That was such a disaster…very sad!

    • tkmorin

      May 28, 2013 at 9:40 am

      I hope we (the powers that be) have learned a lesson! 🙂


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